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September 29, 2004

Potty Talk

Warning: this post contains no educational material whatsoever. It's merely me, at the office late working on the new company and feeling punchy, telling a story about meeting Bill Gates at a urinal.

Microsoft made a buyout offer for Excite (corporate name: Architext) in December of 1995. That was two months after we had launched.

Cost of Excite in December 1995: $70 million.
Meeting Bill Gates at a urinal: priceless.

I said above that there was no valuable experience to draw upon here, but I was wrong. Here it is. Much of the early team was quite tempted to take the money. Others of us wanted to go for it on our own. It was Vinod who had some good perspective. He said that the hardest thing for a startup to do is get momentum. Gain some momentum and it becomes quite hard to stop the trajectory of the company. Said through an analogy, "once the rocket is off the pad and reaches escape velocity, it's very difficult to stop." Sure, but how do you know when you've hit escape velocity? That's the tricky question and while Vinod certainly maintained that we had (given the winning of the Netscape deal (see Persistence Pays, pt II)) I was uncertain.

So, off to Microsoft we went to negotiate.

Microsoft received us with the usual parade of good cops and bad cops. The good cops were tough but engaging. Yes, they wanted to buy the company. No, we're not paying more than $70 million. The bad cops were just plain hostile. I remember Nathan Myhrvold nearly yelling that search was not a business; that users would find their favorite site, bookmark them and then never go to search again. You honestly had to have that debate in 1995. Bookmarks? Sheesh.

During one of the negotiating sessions (with the good cops), Vinod and I took a break to hit the bathroom. Vinod pushes open the bathroom door and there, standing slightly hunched at the urinal, was a small man dressed in a sweater. "Holy shit" I said to myself. "It's Bill Gates."

Image you're facing three urinals. Bill taken the right-most. Vinod takes centerfield and I'm out in left.

Vinod looks over at Bill.
"Hey Bill".

Bill looks back at Vinod "Hey Vinod, who are you here with today?" (today? now is that a telling question or what.).

"I'm here with the Architext guys. This is Joe Kraus".

Let me pause this dialog to say two things right now.

1. what is the appropriate bathroom etiquette? I had a massive internal struggle. Do I reach over the urinal barriers to extend a handshake to Bill? What would he do if I did?

2. I had complete urinal performance anxiety. I had not been able to pee up to this point. Nothing was happening in the presence of the man who brought us greatness like Microsoft Decathlon and the Blue Screen of Death.

What did I do? I said hello and then stood there silently not knowing what to do or say.

Shortly thereafter, Bill finished up, backed away from the urinal, washed his hands and left.

"Bye Vinod."

I should have shaken his hand.

September 29, 2004 | Permalink


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Haha, that's a great story.

Honestly I don't know what I would've done in the same situation.

What would have been worse is if you tried to shake his hand and he didn't attempt to shake yours back.

Posted by: Brad | Sep 29, 2004 9:28:44 PM

Beavis-VoiceUh, can we have some money or something?/Beavis-Voice

Posted by: Brandon Fuller | Sep 29, 2004 11:39:19 PM

That's hilarious! :)

Posted by: JD | Sep 29, 2004 11:52:22 PM

Maybe you should have shaken his hand. Anyway, this story is so funny! :)

Posted by: Michele | Sep 30, 2004 12:19:52 AM

This is very interesting! Sometime some chances are really hard to repeat so grap them when you can...

Posted by: Edward | Sep 30, 2004 1:51:06 AM

Shaking hands at the urinals? Is this something you would have done with other persons, too? In my opinion, this is a big no-no. The other party may feel offended by your lack of hygiene.

Posted by: Mario | Sep 30, 2004 2:14:44 AM

Not only would you be shaking hands at the urinal, you would have to reach across Vinod who was using the urinal in order to shake hands with Bill. Frankly, you made the right decision.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 30, 2004 6:41:21 AM

Thanks, Joe, not only for a great story, but a link back to Decathlon!

Posted by: Cap'n Ken | Sep 30, 2004 8:12:13 AM

You should have taken the cookie! ;-) Great story.


Posted by: Enrique | Sep 30, 2004 8:57:34 AM

Shaking hands after urinal.!!..Joe made a right decision..
I feel there should be an industry-wide standard about when to shake hands and when not:-))


Posted by: Shivp | Sep 30, 2004 9:11:04 AM

hilarious! Maybe a "Hello Bill, how about coffee at 3?" would've sufficed :)

Posted by: matt | Sep 30, 2004 8:10:19 PM

Hey, zip up (you aren't going anyway, right?) go over and wash your hands, and shake his hand after he washes up. You can always finish urinating after he leaves...

Posted by: SteveSC | Oct 1, 2004 5:23:24 PM

Classic! Maybe you did the right thing. You wouldn't normally shake someone's hand in that situation and therefore if you had it would have suggested that you were in awe of Bill. (note to self - don't try and analyse urinal behaviour)

Posted by: Robert | Oct 2, 2004 12:48:47 PM

Hey Joe,

Do you know where Amanda is? She is ver bright lady and was once a very close friend of mine. Any help you may provide, is genuinely appreciated.

Christopher Johnson.

Posted by: Christopher Johnson | Oct 2, 2004 8:08:33 PM

Your stories are great, very much from the heart and genuine. A refreshing Comedy Central take on the inside of the technology industry. Keep it up buddy.

Posted by: Jason Rutherglen | Oct 3, 2004 8:00:11 PM

Hmm, I think I'd have done something totally crazy. Too bad Vinod was in the way. >-)

Posted by: mishoo | Oct 10, 2004 2:40:58 PM

Great story which I shared with my son who said "so he was basically caught with his pants down?" Then he muttered... how great is it that the richest guy in the world just takes a piss whereever he needs to and doesn't like go back to his own place? As far as shaking hands. Never in the bathroom, and never with a person who sees you leave the bathroom. Sorry, but what do you say... that dampness is because I washed?

Posted by: Frank Geiger | Oct 12, 2004 8:00:54 PM

You talk about the John Wayne - dilemma. John Wayne never ever entered a public urinal, once he was famous. If he did and was recognized, everybody turned around towards him: "Boah - this is John Wayne". (And most of them had no problems to pee :-))

So you should be proud of your decision not to shake hands with Mr. Gates (even so you didn`t pee a that moment)

laughed a lot - thank you.

Posted by: Gerold Braun | Oct 12, 2004 11:55:57 PM

meeting bill gates in a urinal??... i would piss on his shoes!!!!

Posted by: marco ruffatti | Oct 26, 2004 1:45:13 AM

Just saying "Hello" was the right thing to do. Better than saying something stupid like "Windows 3.1 sucked -- thank God you guys finally made Windows95."

Posted by: Joe Kraus (No, not the Excite guy...) | May 18, 2005 2:17:45 PM

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